16 Apr 2012

Nominal punishment for £30k benefit fraud

A woman claimed more than £30,000 of benefits despite having tens of thousands of pounds in savings accounts, a court heard.

Hawabibi Patel (58) claimed income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit between 2006 and 2010.

But she did not tell Leicester City Council or the Department of Work and Pensions about up to £43,800 she held in savings accounts and bonds.

She admitted two counts of benefit fraud, by failing to notify the authorities of a change in her circumstances.

Leicester Crown Court was told she started legitimately claiming benefits in 1996 because she was unable to work due to ill health, but from August, 2006, her savings exceeded the limits for benefit entitlement.

Patel, of Redwing Walk, Spinney Hills, Leicester, ignored letters and warnings and her benefits were stopped in November, 2010.

From August, 2006, to November, 2010, Patel was overpaid £30,156.22 in benefits.

Sophie Lomas, prosecuting, said Patel indicated in interviews she wanted to use her savings for private medical treatment.

Patel, who suffers from arthritis, was assisted by a Gujarati translator for the court proceedings.

Sarah-Jane Varley, mitigating, urged a community-based penalty be imposed, rather than prison, because of Patel's age and poor health.

She was given a 10-week jail sentence, suspended for one year. She was also placed on an electronically tagged 10 week curfew between 6pm to 6am.

Sentencing, Judge Philip Head said: "You knowingly and dishonestly failed to tell those who were paying your benefits of your savings.

"As a result of that dishonesty you received more than £30,000 of public money you were not entitled to.

"This is a lot of money other people should have had and you, in effect, stole.

"It covers a period of more than four years and you would have carried on, I've no doubt, until you were caught."

Judge Head said the curfew would "inconvenience and punish" Patel and if the conditions were broken she would appear before him again and be likely to serve out the full prison sentence.

Patel has already repaid nearly £22,000 of the benefits she claimed – and she will have also repay the rest of the money in the future.

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